PHILLY BEER WEEK: Behind the Brewing of Brotherly Suds 3
They'd just flown in from San Diego, and boy, were their tastebuds tired.
It's fitting that the third installment of Brotherly Suds -- the annual collaborative brew that accompanies the now-juggernaut Philly Beer Week
(June 1-10) -- was put in jeopardy by beer. The annual Craft Brewers Conference
, this year in sunny Southern California, had just wrapped up on May 5. That gave a cadre of local brewmasters less than one month to brew and keg a beer that its brewers had been "tossing around ideas for" since last year, according to Tröeg's Brewing Co.'s John Trogner, but for which no actual recipe -- let alone consensus about what kind of beer it would actually be -- existed.
As Beer Week's publicist excitedly informs me on May 4 as we try to coordinate an interview for this piece, "it changes every hour."
You might think the task of creating a batch of high-profile suds in three weeks -- without so much as a recipe -- would induce abject panic in these guys. But the brewers in question are some of the most decorated in Pennsylvania's brewing renaissance, a craft-brewing groundswell that's seen the state reclaim its place as an American beer Valhalla. Everything came together when representatives from Downingtown's Victory Brewing, Philadelphia's Nodding Head, Adamstown's Stoudt's, and Phoenixville/Pottstown's Sly Fox gathered at the new Hershey, Pa., facility of this year's host brewery, Tröegs, on Monday, May 7, to put their hop-heads together and brew up Brotherly Suds 3. The brewers from Philadelphia's Yards and regional brewpub chain Iron Hill couldn't attend, but contributed to the recipe formulation. The resulting concoction has roots in Pennsylvania's German brewing heritage but is also designed to be not quite like anything you've ever had.
"If you were going to enter it into the Great American Beer Festival, it would be [classified as] 'other,' says Trogner, proudly, in a phone interview at the conclusion of the May 7 brewing session.
The base of any beer is its malt, the combination of grain that is boiled in water to give the resulting beverage its color and bready sweetness.
"Gordon Grubb from Nodding Head had an idea for a Vienna lager,"explains Trogner. Starting with a Vienna malt that has, "a biscuit flavor, a great canvas to build on,"they added some rye to give it a nip of spiciness.
The type of yeast -- the microorganisms that eat the sugar in a brew and spit out alcohol—also impacts the flavor. For Brotherly Suds 3, the brewers went with the strain used in German kölsch-style beer.
Where the brewers really imposed their will was with the selection of hops, the sticky, resinous flowers that imbue beer with its characteristic aroma and bitterness. Hops come in hundreds of varieties and are to brewers as spices are to chefs; each brewer has his or her go-to types.
To start that part of the recipe-making process, "we emailed back and forth a bunch of our favorites,"says Trogner. "The malts we chose are delicate, so we didn't want to overpower it."
The brewers gathered in Tröegs'malt room, smelled the grains they'd chosen, and suggested hop varieties, describing them from memory. Brewers get to the point where they've narrowed the universe of potential ingredients and work almost instinctively with the ones they know best. For instance, Trogner's favorite hop is the Nugget variety. This exercise got everyone thinking outside the box, smelling malts, describing hops and trying to reach consensus.
"We tried to not talk ourselves into [a certain hop],"describes Trogner. "We tried to talk ourselves out of them."
They arrived at a combination of Centennial hops, an American variety suggested by Brett Kintzer of Stoudt's, and American- and German-grown Tettnang hops.
"Kölsch is a really refreshing, vibrant, zesty yeast, and it plays well in the pool with the hops we chose,"says Trogner. "But a traditional kölsch would never have American hops."
As for how Brotherly Suds 3 is going to taste, Trogner's sense is that it'll be a beer with "a rounded mouth feel, a little nutty, dry, definitely not sweet, amber and orange in color."
As for when you'll be able to taste it: "I hope in time for Beer Week!" Trogner laughs. "We're cutting it pretty close, but we're confident we'll have it before Opening Tap."
Philly Beer Week's Opening Tap will take place Friday, June 1, 7 p.m., at Independence Mall, Sixth and Market streets. Philly Beer Week is from June 1-10 at numerous locations. For more information, a full schedule of events and tickets to the Opening Tap festival, visit phillybeerweek.org
BEER WEEK BEST BETS
Philly Beer Week's events schedule can be overwhelming. Keep your eyes peeled for "meet the brewer"events, rare tappings, firkins, food pairings and collaborative events to get the most bang for your Beer Week Buck. Also keep in mind that those kinds of events tend to be the most mobbed, and that a simple tap-takeover at your local watering hole can be just as fulfilling. Here's at least one "best bet"for each day of Philly Beer Week No. 5.
No-Repeat Beer Week
From 11:30 a.m. through 2 a.m., for the entirety of Beer Week, the Kensington beer bar will move through a staggering list rare and unique kegs, and once one is tapped, a new amazing keg is put on, no repeats.
The Keystone State Showcase
Fri. and Sat., June 1 and 2, 3 p.m.-2 a.m., The Boilermaker, 216 S. 11th St., 215-922-3427
The candlelit two-floor spot will feature an all-star Pennsylvania lineup on its 40 lines with hot-dog and spirit pairings chosen by the brewers.
Sat., June 2, Philadelphia Navy Yard, VIP session at 12:30 p.m. ($75), general admission, 1:30 p.m. ($46)
More than 100 beers from more than 50 international breweries. It's like beer week crammed into one afternoon.
Once You Go Black…
Sat., June 2, 2 p.m.-10 p.m., Woody's, 202 S. 13th St., 215-545-1893
A selection of Shaft and Pam Grier flicks to accompany a day of coffee and chocolate beers.
Scratch Series Showdown
Sun., June 3, 5-9 p.m., Standard Tap, 901 N. Second St., 215-238-0630
Troegs invited beverage scribes Lew Bryson (Seen Through a Glass) and Jack Curtin (Liquid Diet Online) out to their facility to brew their own beer. Now the scribes square off and submit their concoctions to the scrutiny of the masses.
Founders Takeover the P.O.P.E.
It'll be mobbed, but it'll be worth it as Michigan legend Founders takes over the P.O.P.E. Rumors abound that the brewery's owner Dave Engbers will be in the house.
Heavy Metal Happy Hour
Tue., June 5, 9 p.m. - midnight, Alla Spina, 1410 Mt. Vernon St., 215-600-0017
Iacopo Lenci of Italy's Birrificio Bruton controls the taps and the sound system at Marc Vetri's new Italian gastropub, unleashing both his Italian craft beer and his metal collection (Lenci, no lie, used to book metal acts in his brewery).
Who Put Hops in My Cider? I Want to Thank Them
Wed., June 6, 6 - 8 p.m., The Grey Lodge Pub, 6235 Frankford Ave., 215-856-3591, meet the brewer
The great Northeast beer bar welcomes Woodchuck's new Mt. Hood Cider, a dry-hopped offering, along with the brewery's Belgian White Cider (made like a witbier), Spring Cider (made with Vermont maple syrup) and the lower-ABV Crisp Cider.
Deschutes is 'da sh_t!
Thu., June 7, 8-10 p.m., Monk's Cafe, 264 S. 16th St., 215-545-7005
This Oregon brewery makes a rare appearance in Pennsylvania. See if you can't convince them to visit more often.
Dogfish Head Black Lodge + White Lodge = Grey Lodge
Fri., June 8, 7-9 p.m., The Grey Lodge Pub, 6235 Frankford Ave., 215-856-3591, meet the brewer
Rehoboth, Del.'s Dogfish Head unveils two beers inspired by the '90s TV show Twin Peaks, White Lodge and Black Lodge, at, fittingly, the Grey Lodge. DFH head brewer Ben Potts has been collaborating with these brews with Grey Lodge owner Scoats, both of whom will be on hand for the unveiling.
Home Brew Beer Fest
Sat., June 9, noon-4 p.m., $30, Memphis Tap Room, 2331 E. Cumberland St., 215-425-4460
All-you-can-eat hot dogs and some of the best homebrew the area has to offer.
The 5th annual T.T.U.D.
Sun., June 10, 7 p.m. midnight, Fergie's Pub, 1214 Sansom St., 215-928-8118
T.T.U.D. stands for "That Totally Unnecessary Drink." Enough said.
BRIAN HOWARD is a South Philly-based journalist, cyclist, home-brewer and vermicomposter. He's the former editor in chief of City Paper and has been covering Philadelphia since his byline first appeared in the La SalleCollegian in 1993. Send feedback here.
Photo courtesy of Philly Beer Week: (from left) Bill Covaleski (Victory), Gordon Grubb (Nodding Head), John Trogner (Troegs) and Brian O'Reilly (Sly Fox).